Part 1

A story in eight parts, by Eric Carwardine

Set in an Australian summer, in the State of Victoria.

I would like to thank Karen Hodkinson,
who inspired me to write it.

for Karen

'Karen? Got a minute? Something I'd like you to look at. Over the weekend. Let me know what you think'

Drat! Karen pulled a face at the office intercom. He always chose a Friday to drop these things on her. This was a long weekend, a Monday holiday, and broadcasting was to have been the last thing on her mind.

'Oops, sorry' she apologised to the woodwork, as she vented her anger on his office-door. The force of her entry made him glance sharply at her, but he held back his comment for just a moment. Despite her protests, he knew she appreciated the chance to think these things over, away from the frantic bustle of the radio station. She was his best presenter, and the station had her to thank for attracting many of its sponsors. The story would grow and mature in her brain, over the weekend. And he knew from experience that his turn to be angry would come with the working week, as she tried to monopolise his time, to listen to her ideas.

'Come in. Sit down. I'll put the door back on its hinges later'. And this time she made sure he could see the face she pulled.

'Your face will stay like that, if you do that much more, young lady'. His rebuke came without the hint of a grin, and was devastating in its timing. She could feel her ears glowing, like crimson beacons. And there was absolutely no way to hide them, not even by completely turning her back on him! Her humiliation was total - and very public! She sank onto the chair, clasped her hands in her lap, and hung her head, biting her lip and hoping he would say nothing. She couldn't bear to look him in the face.

He picked up the handset of his telephone and went through the motions of dialling a number. Appearing to let the number ring-out, he dialled again. Still no answer. With a sigh of resignation, he gently replaced the handset on its cradle. 'Thankyou, thankyou' she silently murmured. The telephone call had been a charade. A way of giving her vital seconds for the blood to ebb from the engorged capillaries in her ears. For the blazing heat to fade from her cheeks, so she could once again lift her face to the world.

From the chaos on his desk he picked up a red-and-yellow Express Post satchel, and rose from his chair. Walking slowly to her side, he placed the postal container in her hands. 'This arrived yesterday. There's a lot in there, but just have a look at the introductory letter for the moment. Give me your immediate thoughts'.

This time the interruption could not have been staged. A sales representative had arrived for an appointment. 'No, you stay here, Karen, we'll go next-door' as he motioned her back into her chair. 'I need your decision on that', pointing to the satchel in her hands. And she thrilled a little, at his third perfectly-timed statement for the morning. Her brain re-played his words - 'need your decision' he had said. Not 'want', but 'need'. She was 'necessary'. Once more the little radio station was looking to her for inspiration. She was their flag-ship, their only hope of staying afloat in these wild, merciless commercial oceans. She could feel her fingers on the console slide, as she faded -down the 'Internationale' by Billy Bragg - her theme song - and people in the little community turned-up the volume on their radio. 'Good morning, I'm Karen Hodkinson ...'. Yes, the little radio station needed her. She could not let them down. And the sting of tears blazed behind her eyes.

Tearing open the flap on the post-bag, she withdrew a letter, its three pages stapled at the corner. The post-code on the letter-head showed it to have originated from within Victoria, but she had never heard of a place called 'Kurrattan'. Kurrattan? Kurrattan? There was something ominous - almost sinister - in the name, but her memory could provide no comfort. Had something happened there in the past? She glanced through the glass partition of the office - he was still earnestly occupied with the sales representative. Time, she judged, for a quick dash back to her desk to type 'Kurrattan' into a media search-engine. But two minutes later she was none the wiser. If Kurrattan held any dark secrets, then it was keeping them very well hidden. Had anything newsworthy ever happened there in the lifespan of newspapers, then the network of archives knew nothing of it. But still her mind wouldn't let-go of the name. She shivered a little, despite the February heat. For some strange, terrifying reason she was being drawn to Kurrattan - a place she had never heard-of. And nobody else had heard of it either, it seemed.

Puzzled, and trembling a little, she closed his office-door - gently this time. All trace of her anger had vanished. But the feeling that had taken its place was something she had never known before. Terror, excitement, blood pounding in her temples, all she could hear were the words of the 'Internationale'. Resting her hands on the only part of his desk not covered by something, she suddenly realised that she was hyperventilating, as she drew huge breaths into her lungs. Her hands slid along the desk-top as she found the sanctuary of her chair. She was shocked to see the smears of sweat left by her fingers and palms. Thank goodness his meeting with the sales representative showed no sign of ending. She was going to need more than a few seconds to compose herself this time.

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